Integrating Discovery-Based Research into the Undergraduate Curriculum: Report on an NAS Convocation

Monday, December 14, 3:15 pm-3:45 pm, Room 24B

Sarah C. R. Elgin, Washington University in St. Louis
Erin L. Dolan, Texas Institute for Discovery Education in Science, University of Texas, Austin
Susan R. Wessler, Center for Plant Cell Biology, University of California, Riverside
Jay Labov, National Academy of Sciences

Recommendation #2 of the 2012 PCAST report, “Engage to Excel,” is to “advocate and provide support for replacing standard laboratory courses with discovery-based research courses.” While this is a challenging goal, course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs or CREs), which involve groups of students addressing research problems in the context of a class, have been shown to improve learning, attitudes, and other student outcomes that are predictive of persistence in science. Positive outcomes have been observed for students in all natural science disciplines, at all levels from freshmen to seniors, including underrepresented students. A well-designed CURE includes explicit instructional supports, provides plenty of room for student decision-making, fosters a collaborative atmosphere that includes mentoring by peers and faculty, and provides a mechanism for student communication of their results to a larger audience.

This design will be illustrated using three CUREs, both national and local in scope. The Genomics Education Partnership (GEP) is a consortium of faculty largely from primarily undergraduate institutions (~60 schools per year) who work together to mentor their students (>1,000 per year) in improving the sequence and analyzing the genes from the Muller F element (or dot chromosome) of Drosophila. The Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) at UT Austin involves more than 800 freshmen each year who complete a Research Methods course followed by one to two semesters of research in one of 25 different areas, called “research streams.” Longitudinal tracking of FRI students shows they are more likely to graduate on time with a science major than nonparticipating students. Freshmen are also the focus of the Dynamic Genome (DG) course at UC Riverside, offered as an alternative to the Introductory Biology Lab. The DG course will serve over 300 students in 15 sections during 2015-16 with projected expansion to

600 students by 2018. A plug-and-play model allows an increasing number of UCR faculty to take ownership of DG sections that focus on their research interests. Students who complete the DG course have access to additional research opportunities, likely to increase their persistence in a STEM major.

The session will consider the opportunities and challenges of implementing and scaling up CUREs to engage large numbers of students, and consider current assessment of such initiatives both locally and nationally. While additional data on long-term impacts is needed, results to date indicate that this instructional approach can improve undergraduates’ success in science.

The Convocation, publication of the Convocation report, and some speaker travel costs were supported by the Helmsley Charitable

Trust, Sloan Foundation, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


Using Visual Networks to Map the Systems Thinking Literature

Tuesday, December 15, 3:15 pm-3:45 pm, Room 24B

Tammy M. Long, Michigan State University

So, what exactly, is systems thinking? And, how can I know if my students are using it? National reports have advocated inclusion of systems learning at all levels in STEM education, but characterizing what it means to be a “systems thinker” has proven difficult. As an alternative to the standard literature review, our team has adapted an Information Sciences approach that harnesses the power of large bibliographic databases to identify and visualize key communities, publications, and themes that will inform the development of a systems thinking framework for teaching and learning in undergraduate biology.

Organized by the ASCB Education Committee